The Society of Cool!
Stepping into the 60’s soul and R&B genre we’ll start by looking at snap shots from the background of one or two of the founders and artists such as Motown’s Berry Gordy Jnr, the singer and original ‘Mr. Excitement’ himself Jackie Wilson. Both were former professional boxers where no doubt the discipline of boxing and being confident in a tight spot came in handy. Gordy was a perfectionist through and through and sometimes doesn’t get the recognition he deserves for founding, running, and succeeding under such difficult circumstances. Gordy Jnrs boxing career in the featherweight division spanned from Dec 1947 – Nov 1950 finishing with a record of 17 bouts, 12 wins (5KO) with 3 losses (0KO) and 2 draws.
Gordy Jnr at one time fought on the same bill in Detroit as the legendary Joe ‘Brown Bomber’ Louis. Berry Gordy retired with a respectable boxing record which was no mean feat considering the hard times, just after World War II.
Though we see Berry Gordy as a big time businessman of Motown Records, after his boxing career he worked in the car factories of Detroit assembling cars. At the start of his music career he was a skilled songwriter eventually penning a brace of hits for the likes of Marv Johnson (Come To Me), The Contours (Do You Love Me) and even up into the 70’s with The Jackson 5 (I found That Girl). Talk about rolling your sleeves up and leading from the front. Who can boast of that today?
Another I would like to have a look at is the indomitable Mr. Jackie ‘Sonny’ Wilson. Another former professional boxer who though winning the amateur national golden gloves championship of America failed to make a dent in the professional ranks. Jackie then resorted to singing for his supper and the rest as they say is great musical history. Jackie Wilson born 9th January 1934 didn’t have the best start in life but to then end up the peer of such luminaries as Elvis Presley and James Brown says a lot in itself. From the tough ghettos of Detroit, through correctional institutes and being shot by a female fan, losing a kidney in the process, this man produced timeless music time after time with such passion, vigor and energy he left all others standing in his wake.
His sell out stage shows produced hit after hit many written by Berry Gordy Jnr himself. With glowing testimonials from the likes of Elvis Presley, Berry Gordy Jnr and Billy Vera the Stax stalwart who often played in Wilsons road band.
Now if you have journeyed this far into the article thank you. The reason for this article is my love of the background histories and stories of the people that populate the world of the musical genres that I deeply love and care about. I’m definitely not an expert just a dancer and a lover of good music. That feeling, love and care comes from the many bedroom dj stints, youth clubs, blues parties, sound system sessions, soul nights, all-nighters, all-dayers and many gigs. Also from the singles, albums, cd’s, liner notes, anecdotes and stories I have listened to, talked about with others and read over many years while flicking through records in dusty secondhand record shops. From independent record shops like Disco Oasis, Andy’s Records to the multinationals like Martins The Newsagents (yes, at one time they all sold vinyl 45’s and albums and had listening booths, Boots and Woolworths included), Our Price, Virgin Records and HMV to name just a few that littered every town and city high street and back alley. But the best times it must be stated, for me, was the 45’s record bar of the all-nighters up and down the country, even though I could rarely afford any, from Stateside, Verve, Stax, Sue, Brunswick, Chess, Okeh and Motown et al. Each with their own deep history, there to be learned, the label founders, producers, musicians and artists, production engineers, album artists and designers, all the way through to the receptionist. Remember a gal named Martha who answered the phones at Motown? Whatever became of her?
Remember this though folks, ‘It’s not extraordinary people that do great things… It’s ordinary people who become great doing extraordinary things…I was once asked, ‘Could you imagine a world without music?’ Well could you? I shudder and can’t even contemplate life without it. Music is what binds the fabric of society together! This then is my very small but honestly felt tribute to good music makers, listeners and dancers that drive our movement from the past, present and future. Keep diggin’, keep listenin' and keep on groovin’. But most of all, keep the torch burning…
Gary D' (a proud to be member of the Mod Generation)
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